Independent Neighbourhood Justice Panel Evaluation
The PCC commissioned Bournemouth University to carry out an independent evaluation on the effectiveness of Neighbourhood Justice Panels (NJPs) delivering Restorative Justice (RJ) in Dorset. RJ is: victim focussed and lets victims tell offenders the real impact of their crime; holds offenders directly accountable to their victims; and can bring them together in a facilitated meeting; and can be used at any stage of a crime and for any type of crime - subject to comprehensive risk assessments on a ‘case-by-case’ basis. The aim of the meeting is to develop a better understanding with the aim of consensually agreed solution(s). NJPs in Dorset began in 2011 and are currently only available for low level crimes and civil disputes where offender guilt has been offered and victims consent to the incident being discussed. Referrals come through the police and local housing providers and self-referral is also available. RJ is a voluntary process and both the victim and offender need to be willing to participate.
The attached evaluation report summarises data gathered from 21 interviews with all types of participants. The participants were six victims/their representatives, six offenders/their representatives, eight RJ facilitators and the NJP Coordinator. It explains the NJP processes, impacts and the reasons for the high satisfaction and positive engagement rate, which has been reported in Dorset following exit survey results (collected 2013-15).
The research aims were to:
- Understand what expectations matter most to the NJP participants.
- Understand how and why RJ via NJP is applied through the extent of satisfaction with the process.
- Inform NJP best practice by exploring the long term impacts of NJP agreements.
Perceptions from facilitators and victims/offenders have been separated:
- Preparation and explanation important - including talking to the participants' to gather greater detail than the summary notes provided. Supporters for participants are important – family or friend.
- Protecting the emotional well-being of participants - including engagement of external agencies, e.g. health/psychological, with both the offenders and victims, improved mutual empathy.
- Communication skills of the facilitators – including: empathy; respectful listening; non-judgemental; effectiveness; and clarity with all participants. Confidence and experience gained from conducting meetings matters.
- Remorse - apologies are a usual and important part of the process. They are encouraged, but crucially apologies do not always happen. However they not always necessary - meeting and often post-meeting informal engagement and interactions can be very positive.
- Guidance and training – support from the NJP co-ordinator including with meeting preparation, contacting participants and providing general encouragement. Also key is the promotion of NJP work by the coordinator.
- Monitoring the impact of NJPs - what are the long term impacts of NJP meetings on participants' future lives? Were the NJP agreements delivered satisfactorily?
- Improvements requested - increased referral of cases and where possible more information on participants' backgrounds would be helpful.
Victims and offenders (including representatives):
- Adequate information provided (9 of the 12 interviewed) – on purpose and objectives of the NJP meeting. It was clear that the goal of the facilitator in the NJP meeting was to confront the harm and agree a way forward. The remaining three participants felt it could be improved with clearer expectations of the meeting and a better understanding by the facilitator of the participant's past experiences and emotions.
- Meeting facilitation - Fair and balanced meeting (9 participants) - adequate opportunity to explain how the incident affected them. But the remaining three participants felt they were not treated fairly or in a balanced way.
- Remorse was important – all participants had an apology as part of their NJP meeting. However, nine participants felt the apology was genuine and three participants did not.
- Comfort with NJP meeting - slight shift to more comfortable noted after the meeting. For those participants who felt comfortable, the facilitators' preparations for their meeting helped. For those who felt uncomfortable, the facilitators' preparations for the meeting had not alleviated all their concerns – see first bullet point in this list.
- Satisfaction with NJP meeting - slight shift to more satisfied noted in the long term (2 months plus after meeting):
-Satisfied in the short term – due to effective/detailed preparation and facilitation, resulting in an organised/balanced NJP meeting. Long term, successful application of the agreed resolution was important and often included: financial remuneration; letters of apology; and voluntary offender actions i.e. repairing physical damage done.
-Dissatisfied in the short term – due to ineffective preparation and facilitation resulting in an NJP meeting that felt disorganised and imbalanced. Long term, this dissatisfaction continued where participants perceived they had received only a limited reassurance of progress of any agreed resolutions.
- Support for NJP meeting - 9 participants felt supported during the process, whilst 3 participants felt unsupported. Unsupported' participants – internal support structures (family/friends) had helped them, but external support structures (agencies involved or perceived as available) had provided only limited help.
- Comparison with other criminal justice processes - 9 participants positively and 3 participants negatively compared their NJP meeting to other forms of resolution such as Dorset Police Service and HM Courts & Tribunals Service. All 12 participants, after being made aware, felt the possibility of enforcing NJP resolutions using pre-sentence RJ for appropriate court cases was important. It was perceived it could counteract any offender non-compliance. For those 3 participants (all victims) who made negative comparisons, avoiding court and a formal sentence limited offender accountability and the extent of punishment. There were concerns that repeat offenders could escape the court process.
Conclusions & Recommendations:
1. Preparation, experience and training - an informed and prepared facilitator who effectively engages with participants is vital to a successful NJP process. Ensuring that victims are informed that repeat offenders will not avoid court processes where applicable – training of facilitators is a key part of this, along with their skills to recognise and highlight non-verbal communication between participants e.g. demonstrations of empathy/remorse by offenders towards victims. NJP facilitators are keen to be trained and mentored to support more serious cases – both pre-sentence and post-conviction - picking up on the lack of other agencies now offering RJ in Dorset.
2. Referrals - increasing NJP referrals is essential to provide those facilitators with ongoing experience that keep them 'skilled' and ensures a good quality service. A review of the criteria on a 'case- by case' basis including more serious crime and previous offending would support this, with appropriate training.
3. Long term impact of NJP outcomes - agreed by victims/offenders and their supporters, is felt to be largely positive in Dorset. Monitoring of reoffending rates and/or 'breaches' of these agreements is vital. Also the consideration of pre-sentence RJ may help with more serious cases, particularly supporting victims through the delivery of the agreement. This can also assist in increasing public trust in and satisfaction with the NJP solutions provided.
4. Improving evaluation of NJPs - through both short term and long term questionnaires/interviews, of all NJP participants, across Dorset. Explain that as part of the NJP process all participants are needed to take part. The evaluations will inform the future provision of NJP services in Dorset and identify training programmes for facilitators. This should include perceived compliance with any agreements.
5. Expanding availability of NJPs - NJP data from participants in Dorset in 2013-16 has repeatedly indicated positive impact via high satisfaction rates. NJPs improve local community engagement and resolution. When run by trained volunteers NJPs provide helpful support to key players, i.e. the police, probation and the courts. Promotion of NJP successes is vital to gain the trust and support of these partner agencies, who can act as conduits in both promotion and referrals for RJ.
The full version of the NJP Bournemouth University Restorative Justice (RJ) in Dorset – Neighbourhood Justice Panels (NJPs) Report is available here